Deanna Witkowski was born on March 20, 1972 in New Hampshire, Ohio but was raised in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. She began her musical journey playing classical flute and piano long before discovering jazz. While studying at Wheaton College, Illinois, she turned to jazz, first as a saxophonist, then as pianist and composer. Jazz so captured her interest that she abandoned later studies at DePaul University, Chicago, to become a full time musician. Subsequently, she studied with Hilario Duran and Chucho Valdés, experiences that developed an interest in Afro Cuban music. In Chicago in the mid-90s she accompanied singer Linda Tate and was involved in the LaSalle Street Church’s annual jazz service.
Forming her first quintet in 1994 Deanna performed with them until a four month trip to Africa found her thousands of miles away teaching piano in Kenya. Two years later she returned to the States landing in Chicago, Illinois and recording a demo with her grant money. During this period she studied with several Cuban jazz musicians and the next year, she moved to New York City and became the music director at All Angels Episcopal Church, crafting jazz/gospel masses.
In 2000 released independently the Having to Ask album and began studying with Brazilian drummer Vanderlei Pereira. Leaving the church to follow her own musical path she continued writing and performing sacred music in her spare time, but she composed a piece for a jazz choir and reactivated her quintet.
In 2002 she won the annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida. She backed vocalist Lizz Wright, leading her supporting band on tour in the USA and on a visit to Europe, played a duo with pianist Fred Hersch at New York’s Jazz Gallery, and with multi-instrumentalist James Finn, playing on his Great Spirit.
In the early to years of the new millennium, members of her regular trio have been bass players Jonathan Paul and Dave Ambrosio, and drummers Tom Hipskind and Vince Cherico. She has also taught extensively, including spells at colleges in Germany and Kenya. Post bop pianist Deanna Witkowski continues to compose, perform and record combining jazz, Latin folk, and modern classical composition.
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